Orlando Vallone

A demonstration on how a telehealth consultation is done.

(The Center Square) – The 2021 Committee on Mental Health Modernization will set up work groups to discuss telehealth services, workforce, system capacity and funding, among other topics.

Though many suggestions were considered from the 2020 committee's report, many of the recommendations were not taken, leaving them to be taken up again and reconsidered this year. Each of the work groups is scheduled to meet three to four times before the end of the year.

"With the limited number of providers of mental health services across the state, telehealth gives patients greater access by eliminating travel times that take patients away from work or caregiving while still providing the support they need," Cindy Samuelson, senior vice president of marketing and communications at Kansas Hospital Association, told The Center Square. "Many of our hospitals providing mental health services report that telehealth also has had a positive impact in ensuring that patients get the follow-up care that is needed."

In addition, Samuelson said many rural areas do not have access to any mental health providers, and telemedicine provides access they would not otherwise have. In many patients, there is embarrassment in seeking services for mental health and/or letting others know that they have a mental health issue, and telemedicine provides much desired privacy.

"In certain circumstances, the ability to see a patient’s body movements and posture are helpful in identifying and addressing behavioral health issues," Samuelson said. "However, for the most part, the benefits of accessibility and timeliness, as well as the ability to avoid any perceived stigma with accessing mental healthcare."

Samuelson said that some Kansas hospitals also have reported that telehealth in mental health services can provide a unique ability to see a patient in their at-home environment, which can be quite helpful, particularly in youth treatment. There are studies that show that patients will share more when in a telemedicine consult as they feel more safe being in their own surroundings. For those with severe anxiety, leaving the house may be a barrier to seeking treatment.

Some of the challenges to telehealth can be lack of adequate broadband or a device to use to connect for services.